Feature Archive

Nix the Nightcap for Better Sleep?

Why drinking before bedtime could affect the quality of your shuteye.

By Jenny Stamos
WebMD Medical News

Reviewed By Michael J. Breus, PhD

Joanne Brucker, 47, grew up with European parents, who considered it traditional to drink wine with dinner each night. But eventually she noticed her nightly quaffing was interfering with her slumber. "I tried to keep it up," she says, "but anything more than two glasses definitely kept me from falling asleep. Why does alcohol before bedtime affect me so much?"

Simply put, alcohol makes it hard for you to stay asleep and sleep well, says J. Todd Arnedt, PhD, clinical assistant professor at the Sleep and Chronophysiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan.

Still, the nightcap has quite a following: Up to 15% of people use alcohol to seduce the sandman, large-scale surveys show, even though research suggests that it loses any benefit as a sleep aid within just a few days, Arnedt says. After a few nights of regular imbibing, your body builds up a tolerance to alcohol's effects.

A larger dose than usual will put you out like a light, of course. However, according to Arnedt, this type of slumber steals from the sleep you would normally get early on in your nightly cycle (called dream sleep). Hours later, when your body has mostly metabolized the alcohol, your sleep becomes fragmented, and you're prone to frequent wakings (often to hit the bathroom).